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Sampling The State

Taste of Hawai‘i 2017 visitors enjoy good food and libations.

The public can once again look forward to Rotary Club of Kapa‘a’s Taste of Hawai‘i fundraising event when it returns June 2 with a more-than-impressive lineup of food and beverage vendors.

For the past three decades, Rotary Club of Kapa‘a has put on its ever-popular Taste of Hawai‘i showcase, which brings together food and wine vendors and hungry patrons for a good cause. Funds raised help the club give out scholarships for Kaua‘i Community College culinary students and those about to graduate from high school.

Monies also support the club’s efforts to help Leadership Kaua‘i and Hale Ho‘omalu, among other ventures.

Touted as the island’s ultimate Sunday brunch, Taste of Hawai‘i 2019 runs from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. June 2 at Smith’s Tropical Paradise.

Expect chef Judy Capertina of Haole
Girl Island Sweets and her “Fried” Green Tomato croissants at this year’s Taste of Hawai‘i event.

The club has come a long way in its fundraising efforts, starting back in 1988 with garage and pastry sales.

“After earning $40 with our all-day rummage sale out in the hot midday sun at Vidinha Stadium and $75 selling malasadas all day at Safeway, we figured there had to be a better way,” says founding member Martin Kahn.

It was around that time when one of the club’s newest members, Coco Palms executive chef Jean-Marie Josselin, proposed an innovative concept. His vision was to have 15 chefs from across the islands come to Kaua‘i and cook their best plates. In addition, Josselin believed that the club could ask local musicians to perform and get the beverage merchants to contribute drinks. The idea was that, together, they would create a fundraiser that would attract 500 people. They would sell tickets for $25 and raise not $40 but $12,500.

“Most of us, myself included, were very skeptical,” recalls Kahn. “Fifteen chefs? 500 people? $25 (a ticket)? At that time it sounded crazy.

“Remember, there were no ‘Tastes’ of anything. This was the first in the state. But what did we have to lose? We figured it was worth the try. If you don’t swing the bat, you’ll never get a hit. We got excited, and thus Taste of Hawai‘i was born.”

In addition to numerous food booths, Taste of Hawai‘i features beverage booths.

After a successful first few years at the Coco Palms, the event eventually outgrew the space and the club came up with the idea of Smith’s. The layout was ideal, but would a commercial venture allow a nonprofit fundraiser to use its property?

“That was the question,” recalls Kahn, “We approached Freckles and Mokihana Smith with the idea, and they agreed to give it a try. Moki and Freckles and their family are generous and open-hearted people who saw value for the people of Kaua‘i in this event. The rest is history.”

Since its bold beginning, the fundraiser has grown into Kaua‘i’s premier culinary event that sees a crowd of 1,500 and tickets selling for $100 online (and $125 at the door).

Rotary Club of Kapa‘a founding member Martin Kahn and current club co-president Ronald Lemay pose for a picture after one of the group’s outreach efforts.

This year’s brunch features over 25 local chefs and at least 10 beverage vendors from throughout the islands. There are 16 musical and entertainment groups performing on four stages, including taiko drummers who will open and close festivities. To accommodate the large crowds, free parking and shuttle service will be available from Vidinha Stadium to and from Smith’s Tropical Paradise.

For Kahn, his favorite memory hearkens back to the first Taste of Hawai‘i 30 years ago. “Five hundred people were gathered, all dressed in their finest Sunday brunch attire. Maile lei was strung across the opening and no one entered until the pu‘u was blown. In that quiet moment, I realized we had done it!”

For 2019 Taste of Hawai‘i chairwoman Josie Cortez, the event is just part of who Rotary Club of Kapa‘a is.

“As long as the community continues to enjoy it and our extremely generous participants support it, and the club has the ability to produce it, Taste of Hawai‘i will continue,” she says.

For an event of this scale and with a club of only 19 members, the planning is a year-round process.

Three days after the festival the club meets to debrief — and then it’s on to the next year’s event. Timelines are confirmed, roles are considered, changes are determined. The coordination starts with securing permits, supplies, equipment, participants, sponsors and volunteers. In total, there are 73 categories that need to be addressed to produce the event.

“Although we are gearing up for this year, we are already discussing things we can do next year,” Cortez explains. “Rotary Club of Kapa‘a is a small club. Imagine what we could accomplish if we were a club of 40 members. Taste of Hawai‘i is how the club earns money to allow the support we provide to the community. There are many opportunities to do more projects, but we need your help.”

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit tasteofhawaii.net.